Overall Score 54%
Shepherd Slaughter is a fairly typical top-down RPG with a quirky pixel art style and an old-school feeling to it. Its gameplay features traditional roguelike elements including randomly generated worlds, which combine with a real-time action based flow that is somewhat nostalgic but deeply flawed and generally unsatisfying.
The story, which is narrated in storyboard fashion at the start of the game, sees the player character washed ashore on an island where they are tasked with finding ten pieces of an artefact; one piece in each of ten dungeons. Each dungeon remains locked until opened using a colour-coded key and these keys, in turn, are scattered randomly around the island.
There are a few classes or, to be precise, histories that the player can choose from that dictate the strengths and starting equipment for their character, but really the choice is not that important in the long run, with all characters tending to play out in pretty much the same way. The player character roams the island and fights swarms of wild animals, orcs, trolls, slimes, ents and dragons that can appear among a decent amount of enemy types. They can collect gold that can be used to barter for goods at merchants that spawn occasionally in the world, and can collect equipment that is scattered all over the landscape, stashed in chests, and dropped by monsters as well. There are potions and some magical items like wands as well as the more mundane RPG fare like swords, axes, clubs, shields, armours, helmets, slings and bows. There is nothing particularly revolutionary about any of it, but the game could pass as quite an absorbing timesink if only the gameplay was up to scratch. Unfortunately for Shepherd Slaughter, it is a bit of a let down.
The game is unnecessarily monotonous. The island is far too large for the limited terrain sets and enemy types. Repetition sets in almost immediately. There are no variations of the basic weapon types and so all maces, for example, are exactly the same. Add this to the fact that all melee weapons are almost identical to each other in all respects. Apparently spears have a longer range than any other melee weapon in the game. I would never have known unless I randomly came across a scroll of wisdom that informed me of this. They all feel exactly the same. Shovels can be used to dig away dirt, hammers can be used to mine gold underground, axes can cut through hedge lines, but really anything can be used to bash away at anything, and the player will cease to care very much past the ten minute mark.
The biggest flaw of the game stems from the fact that only one piece of armour can be equipped at any one time; the game seems to arbitrarily decide which. However, while wearing any piece of armour, the player character is totally impervious to attack. Itís a silly mechanic that is easily abused by the player by simply farming the less dangerous territory on the island for armour, then stacking multiple pieces of armour and basically running through the tougher areas without fear. Adding to the woes is the fact that there is so much loot scattered around that there seems absolutely no real reason to attack enemies. Indeed experience is only gained by retrieving artefact pieces, and not by killing monsters. Each artefact piece retrieved rewards a coupe of skill points that can be spent in categories such as character stats or weapon skills, but the increase is hardly tangible and all the characters I created felt the same. Despite being able to choose from various character archetypes at the start of the game, any character can use any weapon (including ranged missile weapons) with pretty much equal efficiency. I really struggled to even see a point to levelling any skill. The game quickly became repetitious and boring.
The game desperately needs an injection of new ideas, fresh concepts and more engaging gameplay. As it stands, constitution and hit points are completely and utterly redundant. Teleporting enemies get stuck in walls. Players can cart around seemingly limitless quantities of functionally identical inventory. There is no way (or no apparent way) to sell goods to vendors. Shields are totally useless. Monsters will sometimes for no reason change position when the player quickly exits and then re-enters a zone (this glitch too is easily exploitable).
I must admit that I'm fond of the graphics, and find the bestiary and accompanying monster portraits quite likable. The presentation and interface is good, as is the default control scheme. The in-game music seems a good match with the style of the game, but the tunes will become repetitive if the player has the fortitude to stick with the game for very long.
This game feels like itís unfinished, plain and simple. The core game concepts just havenít been thought out extensively enough, or enough play testing has not taken place before release. There are scores of other action RPGs, and tons of other roguelikes to boot. Shepherd Slaughter is simply put, offering nothing that some other game isnít doing better.
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